The new normal is anything but
By Jess Weihe
As I’m watching the Ventura County State of the County address via Zoom, seated at my kitchen counter, my daughter Ellie’s laughter fills the background. Her teacher must have told a joke. She’s just started class for the day. She and my husband share an office (formerly known as our guest room), which means it’s almost quiet in my kitchen office.
Thursdays are one of the three days my mom helps watch my other daughter, Logan, in the mornings, so she’s off playing with Moe the turtle right now. Glancing at the clock, I weigh what time I need to pick her up. Past 2 p.m. cuts into that precious afternoon nap, but before then means I miss most of the State of the County.
I cleaned the kitchen this morning, and yet, somehow, the counter seems filled with dishes. Tupperware. At least five different cups. Half-filled mugs of now-cold coffee. Two containers of chips. A bowl of Goldfish. Play-Doh. A soda can. A toothbrush. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, I think. No matter. I’ll clean it again this afternoon. We clean every day.
Earlier today I took a work call in my other office … the dining room. Chatting with my client, we joked about this “new normal.” There’s really nothing normal about it, is there? Which got me thinking about how things were, and how they are now. Everyone is equally more on edge and ready to burst, while also more flexible and more forgiving.
On Zoom calls we joke about showering for each other. Or whether or not we’re wearing sweatpants. Or about the screaming children in the background.
It may not feel normal, but this infusion of real life into our work environments has been fascinating to experience. Prior to COVID-19, everyone had to be “on.” Who you were at home … stayed at home. You put on your “work face” each morning before you left.
Sure, during small talk, you mentioned your families perhaps. Now, not only do I know you have a toddler—I’ve seen your toddler eat a donut while you and I chat about your social media. For some, that may feel like interference in a protected personal space. I find it kind of refreshing.
Isn’t it interesting that in taking away so much of what was the traditional face-to-face human interaction in our business meetings, the current landscape has actually produced an entirely new way in which we know the people we work next to and for? Now, when we have team talks at Mustang, we get to see Angie’s puppy run around in the background. Or we get to watch Carly’s son, Gary, and that fierce head of red hair, exploring. Or we still get to see Dianne, looking perfectly put together—a pandemic will NOT get the best of her!
On my call earlier this morning, in talking design needs with one of our clients, she expressed the need to have a piece that was flexible and easy to edit: “As you know, things seem to change daily.”
Humans—we’re resilient. If you’re like me, you like a good schedule. You like to know set expectations. You like to plan. That’s how life has been structured. And now, we’re all just along on this rollercoaster. Plans have been shifted and canceled so many times, no one blinks anymore when it happens.
I forgot to set my alarm for a 7 a.m. Zoom and rolled in at 7:07 with some dry shampoo and dim lighting. If anyone noticed, they were gracious enough to just smile. Now we’re learning how to apply flexibility to our businesses in ways we never imagined.
When I think about strategy, I think about the necessity to enable and accommodate growth, not stifle it. Often, strategies involve long-term goals and carefully laid plans to meet those goals. But strategy should never overlook the immediate needs, nor should it be so concrete that it can’t move and adapt in changing environments. If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that strategy is only as good as its ability to adapt.
Ellie is on her break. The noise level in my “office” just shot up. She has one “level,” and it’s “MOM—THE MEATLOAF!” loud. It’s seven minutes until 2 p.m. I’m gambling with Logan’s nap time. We keep saying we’re going to start getting her up from her nap at 4:30 p.m. … but each day, we find ourselves still letting her sleep until 5 p.m. You know what that means: forget an easy bedtime.
But, we’re training ourselves to “just roll with it.” We’re the Cat in the Hat, juggling the fish and the bowl, the birthday cake and the toy boat. Maybe this is the normal we’ve been delicately dancing around all along.
• Jess Weihe is director of marketing at Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks.